APEC leaders meet to discuss regional integration

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Leaders from 21 Pacific Rim economies began their annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Yokohama on Saturday to set a vision for regional economic integration amid changing regional and global economic landscape.

The meeting, the second of two back-on-back meetings, opened around noon with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's welcome banquet for the leaders, many of whom flew into this bustling port city just south of Tokyo after attending a Group of 20 summit in South Korea.

Before they gathered for their first retreat session, some of the leaders spoke at an APEC CEO summit.

Chinese President Hu Jintao told business leaders at the CEO summit that emerging markets in the Asia-Pacific region, with robust and sustained development, have become an important economic growth driver in the world.

"In the fight against the international financial crisis, the emerging markets were the first to achieve an economic rebound and fairly rapid growth and played an important part in promoting world economic recovery," Hu said.

"Their development and their future will have a major impact not only on the Asia-Pacific, but also the whole world," he said.

Although the APEC region has been leading global economic growth in spite of the global financial crisis. Trade and foreign ministers meeting ahead of the leaders' meeting acknowledged in their statement that APEC member economies "are now facing challenges, in particular, of addressing volatility, creating employment and reconsolidating finance, and continuing to keep a balance between recovery and the exit strategies of fiscal and monetary policies."

Over the course of two days, the leaders will ponder the future direction for regional economic integration and formulate a new economic growth strategy to sustain economic recovery and lay the foundation for future prosperity.

Speaking at the CEO summit, U.S. President Barack Obama made no secret of his aim to expand trade with emerging markets in the region and creating jobs in America.

"We don't want to lose the opportunity to sell our goods and services in fast-growing markets. We don't want to lose the opportunity to create new jobs back home," Obama said. "The United States is here to stay."

Obama, who is making a 10-day Asia tour that has already taken him to India, Indonesia and South Korea, said progress has been made toward the U.S. export goals on his trip. And he stressed anew his goal of doubling U.S. exports over the next five years.

"In this region, the United States sees a huge opportunity to increase our exports in some of the fastest-growing markets in the world," he said.

Since its inception 21 years ago, APEC has worked actively in promoting regional economic integration, with a long-term vision of creating a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

The leaders are expected to discussed possible pathways to achieving the FTAAP, including existing frameworks like the ASEAN+ 3 and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The leaders will also discuss an assessment of the achievement of the Bogor Goals of free and open trade and investment, adopted at a 1994 APEC summit in Indonesia.

The five developed economies -- the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand -- are subject to assessment at the Yokohama APEC summit. Eight developing economies, including South Korea, Singapore and China's Hong Kong, volunteered to participate in the assessment this year.

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